A Conversation with Claudine Schneider: Board Member and Climate Champion

Last week we sat down to talk with Claudine Schneider about politics, climate change, women running for office and the MeToo movement. She is our first guest for the second season of our podcast Cooler Earth, and we could not wait to share what we learned in our conversation, so here is a sneak peak!

The first woman elected from Rhode Island to the U.S. House of Representatives, Claudine Schneider was also the first Republican Representative to serve the state in more than 40 years. During her five terms in Congress, she earned a reputation as one of the House’s strongest environmental advocates, and has gone on to serve on the board of several environmental non-profits, including ours.

Early in our conversation, we asked Claudine to share with the root of her passion for environmental issues, and her response left us both speechless and impressed.

“I grew up in Pittsburg, my job as a little girl was to dust the house every day. We had coal plants around, and some time later when I went off to school I realized in Philadelphia the sun shone almost every day. It was a shock to realize that those dark skies and the dust that I grew up cleaning was really detrimental to one’s health. My father developed lung cancer, from which he died, even though he was a non-smoker. So did out neighbors and when I was 25, I also suffered from cancer of the lymph system.

It became clear to me that is it important to connect the dots between environmental pollution and one’s health, and if we take care of mother earth, mother earth will take care of us. And so, whatever energy we invest in and advocate for, is critical to the health of the environment and to the health of the individual.”

On her time in office…

Among a long list of impressive accomplishments throughout her career, we asked Claudine to share with us the things she is most proud of:

“What I consider is my greatest accomplishment, was I pulled together the best and brightest Global Warming Prevention Act, an omnibus bill that looked at all the different tracks that we must follow in order to address climate change. Transportation, agriculture, energy and all of those things.”

The legislation, introduced by Claudine in 1988, established as national goals: (1) that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere be reduced from 1987 levels by at least 20 percent by 2005; and (2) the establishment of an International Global Agreement on the Atmosphere by 1992. It also had certain requirements for the Secretary of Energy and the EPA Administrator to report to Congress on necessary policy actions and cost/benefit analyses.

Claudine has not only been a champion of climate legislation, but she has understood the importance of including business into the conversation from the beginning of her career.

“Once I left congress I continued to focus on climate change, which is the single most important issue of our lifetime. I worked with the EPA to be able to cold call corporations to ask what they were doing with their greenhouse gases. Most of them laughed and had a misconception that they were not responsible for producing greenhouse gases. But it was a matter of educating them, and I was in the end able to enlist 50 Fortune 500 corporations to work with the EPA and reduce their emissions. Now most of those corporations are still part of the initiative working together to reduce greenhouse gases and have said themselves are still in the Paris Agreement.”

On the role of business…

Claudine also shared with us some insights into how she has gotten businesses to agree to take action and help reduce the misconception that business is antithetical to climate action. On this note she said:

“An important technique is to ask questions, and after that you have to address the issue of self-interest. If you are dealing with a pharmaceutical company you can let them know that it is in their best interest to reduce those emissions in order to save money, and in the end increase their bottom line.”

The conversation around climate change has also changed a lot from the time Claudine was in Congress in the 80’s and today. In our conversation, she noted a change in investment practices and values, stating that investors today are much more socially responsible and clients are also demanding more socially responsible management of capital and investment, and this growing industry have had positive environmental impacts on the way.

On Climate Action..

“The greatest accomplishment we have achieved is in the business community, and changing business practices. Once they learned there was money to be made and saved in becoming greener, they have become more inclined to support that track. Consumer behaviour has also played a role in driving business towards sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction.

“…Greatest detriment is the lack of coverage by the media, they are there to inform the public and are not doing so currently. Moving towards cheaper energy will happen a lot quicker, people using solar are getting checks back from their utilities, and yet these stories are not making it in the media, and they really should.

“Every individual needs to be better informed. It is so easy today to become informed about climate change, so many organizations cover these topics. Once they become informed they can take that information back to their lawmaker and demand policy change.”

On Women…

One of the topics we, as two millenial women, were most excited to ask Claudine about was her advice for women in politics, her own experience, and overall thoughts on the MeToo movement.

“We are seeing more women gain the self confidence required to run for office. Research shows that a woman needs to be asked three times before she decides to run for public office, that has been the case for decades.

“Thanks to the metoo movement and women speaking up, as well as movements for equal pay and the challenges we are facing with the government telling us what to do with our bodies, it is more important than ever to have women running for office, at all levels.”

In finishing our conversation, we asked Claudine for a few final words of advice for millennial women running for political office, and women in general in today’s political climate. Her answer left us with huge grins on our faces, and inspired about the future:

“Millennial and all women need to understand that as Americans, we think we are advanced, but it was not that long ago when women were considered less than men. That is not the case anymore, women have shown we can outrun men for political office, that we can perform as CEOs of companies, and that we can run for the United States presidency.

“Its a matter of women looking in the mirror and realizing that we will either be a part of the solution or be a part of the problem. No man has walked in our shoes when it comes to taking care of future generations, taking care of the planet. In addition to that, women have a natural tendency to think more about the future, and look at ramifications of decisions. And this is something we need to do more of in our legislature.

“We are natural collaborators, we build coalitions, it is about figuring out what is truly in the public interest. I have a little bias towards more women in Congress, because these are the things I have seen we bring forward when in office.

“Millennial women understand that, because they have been at the forefront of fighting for equality and pushing for environmental and civil protection. And this is what we need in public office throughout the country.”

As you can probably tell, our Podcast is off to a great start, and this is only a small part of the conversation, so be sure to stay tuned for our first episode to hear the full interview. If you haven’t yet listened to our first season, catch up on it now!